4 “Blessed are vthose who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
7 “Blessed are zthe merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
11 g“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evilagainst you falsely hon my account. 12 iRejoice and be glad, for your reward is great inheaven, for jso they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:1-11 ESV
Throughout the New Testament one of the key themes that is repeated is that Jesus was the promised prophet who arise and be greater than Moses. The sermon on the Mount is on of the foundational ways that Matthew’s Gospel tries to hammer that point home for us. Jesus, like Moses, ascends the mountain, and gives his law to his people.
The entire sermon is filled with the aspirations that he has for his people, and the character he expects them to display. It is one of those passages of scripture that you can come back to time and time again, and always feel like you have more to learn, and more to live up to. It is place where we get to see our saviors high standard for us, but also his heart for us in a worry weary world.
His sermon starts with the beatitudes or blessings he pronounces on his people. We should observe 3 things here. The people who are blessed, the characteristics commended, and the blessings that are promised.
The People who are Blessed
On first blush it would be easy to think that these 8 or 9 qualities that he desires of the people who are blessed are 8 distinct groups of people. We see something like this when Paul describes the gifts of the Spirit. So it we be easy for us to think that Jesus means that some of his followers will be poor in spirit, some will be meek, some peacemakers and so on, but that is not how Jesus means for us to understand the descriptions of the people blessed. He means for us to understand that these should all be characteristics of all of his people. Those who come to him in faith should display these characteristics, just as his followers should display all of the fruit of the Spirit.
The Characteristics Commended
Some might want to take these characteristics as primarily physical in nature. Especially as you look at the ideas of the poor, mourners, those who hunger and thirst, and the persecuted. Many scholars have adopted this view because of the way Luke records a similar sermon in his gospel where the emphasis is very much on the physical nature of those who are blessed. However, that just can’t do as Matthew gives us clues that this is indeed spiritual characteristics of Jesus’ people.
Notice He says “poor in spirit,” “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These are very much tied to the idea present in the Old Testament prophets of that those who were physical poor often were oppressed and had no defender but the LORD. They developed a dependence on their God, and they humbled themselves before him and sought their salvation from him. Jesus now calls his followers no matter their socio-economic station in life to humble themselves, and seek their salvation from the LORD.
He wants them to see themselves for what they are. No matter your earthly riches we are all in desperate need of someone to rescue us from this world of pain and suffering. We need someone to rescue us from ourselves for we are morally bankrupt through and through. Even our best deeds are shot through with sin and self seeking. We must see ourselves as we are. Poor in spirit. Therefore we must be meek, we must be mourners, and we must hunger to be righteous as the Lord is righteous. We are to be peacemakers, who show mercy, and who seek to have purified hearts formed by His hands. We must be ready to endure the persecution that is sure to come our way from a world that is in rebellion to him. These are to be the characteristics of His people.
The Blessings Promised
The greek word “Blessed” can be translated as “Happy”, and so some have taught that this means that if you posses these characteristics you will have a happy life. While we must undoubtedly affirm that following God’s commands does lead to happiness, we must reject the idea that Jesus was just providing us a list of things to strive for earthly happiness.
In deed when we look at the promises that are given after each we realize that they are far greater than just happiness. We are promised to inherit the Kingdom of God, the earth itself, to see God, and to have our hunger for righteousness satisfied. We are promised Mercy, comfort, and being called children of God.
Now some might ask are these future promises or present blessings? And the answer to that question is YES! It is true that the verb tense is future, but that reflect not just future fulfillment but the certainty of the fulfillment as well. Those who posses these qualities will see God in the face of Jesus Christ, from who they will receive comfort, mercy, and participate in the kingdom of heaven that is here and now. Jesus himself will call them brothers so that we know that we are truly sons of God. His spirit will purify our hearts and santify us in this life so that we might not only hunger and thirst for righteousness but truly be satisfied with a sanctified life. And finally at the culmination of ages all these things that we have received in partiality in this life we will experience the fullness of, and kingdom of heaven will come to earth that we might inherit it too living with God as it was designed in the Garden.
What a rich way to open a sermon.